The ACE Impact subject matter experts play a critical role by providing implementation support and guidance to the centres in meeting project objectives in the thematic areas of health, agriculture, education, social Sciences and STEM, within the project stipulated timelines. They bring on-board diverse expertise and knowledge in both academia and industry to drive centres towards achieving the project goals as well as consolidating and streamlining their efforts in line with global standards as centres of excellence.

The 7th ACE Impact Regional Workshop provided an opportunity for centres to interact with the subject matter experts during the thematic break-out sessions held on Thursday, June 16, 2022. The break-out sessions featured the following thematic areas: Health, Agriculture, Mining, Energy, and Environment, ICT, Education, Engineering and Urban Transport and Water. Experts assigned to the various thematic areas convened with the centres to assess progress made, challenges encountered and the way forward in addressing these challenges. Summary of the discussions in the thematic areas were shared with participants during the final day on 17th June.

Discussions from the health team was presented by Prof. Michelle Niescierenko, Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She noted centres’ key achievements in the areas of external revenue generation, health policy change, improved delivery of short courses and rapid increase in student enrolment by some health centres, acceleration of research through the Health Networks and International accreditation. For instance, more than $5 million in revenue was generated through grants by the Health Centres- ACENTDFB, ACEGID, ACE-PCMT, ACEPHAP, CaPIC, CERHI, WAGMC, WACCBIP. Also, centres such as ACEDHARS have adopted innovative ways such as the ‘flipped classroom’ methods to redefine online short courses for professional learners. Prof. Niescierenko identified student recruitment as a challenge due to Covid-19 lock downs & travel restrictions, political & security contexts in some host countries and academic staff industrial action. In tackling this challenge, it was acknowledged that although some of these challenges were inevitable and beyond the control of the centres, centres were advised to use their partners to disseminate recruitment materials and develop their students and alumni as their ambassadors to attract more students and increase enrolment. Another key challenge noted concerns internships. She noted that the market for high level scientific research was overestimated in the sub-region leaving only government and NGO sector. However, partnerships with the private sector would provide a long-term solution to addressing the challenge of internships. In addition, complex and delayed procurement processes was mentioned as a major obstacle to accessing consumables, supplies & equipment for science research. It was further noted that the issue of procurement is peculiar to countries therefore University leaders, Center Teams and PSC members were encouraged to work together to identify where bottlenecks can be eradicated. Moving forward, centres were reminded that the project is time-bound hence it remains crucial for activities to be accelerated for maximized use of funds in relation to achieving project targets. Moreover, centres were further encouraged to expand their pool of partners as well as leverage partnerships for knowledge and technology transfer, and research commercialization.

The summary of discussions for the Engineering, Urban & Water Breakout Sessions presented by Prof. J. P. Vandervaere reported that centres in the thematic discipline had made significant progress in the areas of internships and networking. However, key challenges recorded include the narrow scope of regionality in terms of internships and weak inter-ACE networking and partnerships. In addressing these challenges, centres were implored to leverage their partnerships for internship opportunities for their students as well as work more closely with partners to enhance the regional impact, image, and attractiveness of their centres. To strengthen inter-ACE networking and collaborations, centres were advised to leverage on the inter-ACE Networking initiative as well as identify common areas for potential collaborations such as joint research and sharing resources. Furthermore, discussions from the session suggested possible thematic partnerships among the ACEs in the areas of Water & Agriculture; Transport & Health; Engineering & Environment; ICT & Energy. Prof. Vandervaere also highlighted the need for centres to expedite the processes for international accreditation.

Prof. Cyrille van Effenterre, an Engineer and High Council for the Evaluation of Research and Higher Education (HCERES) expert also presented a summary of the agriculture session where he reported that some centres were venturing into entrepreneurship by commercializing some research products. He cited an example of CEFTER where he explained that the centre had commenced a food company, a spin-off of the host University-Benue State University by producing and selling various processed foods including bread, cassava flakes, etc. Other success areas include expansion of partnerships, enhanced community engagements and remarkable steps towards entrepreneurship through the development and implementation of entrepreneurship plan by some centres. The issues of procurement and financial delays, weak institutional impact and publications were captured as operational bottlenecks for the centres. In addressing these challenges, centres were urged to work collaboratively with their governments and universities to jump the procurement hurdle. Again, centres were encouraged to develop a strategy to strengthen research publications as well as engage their various universities for institutional buy-in. For the way forward, recommendations made comprise the need for centres to implement acceleration plans, establish plans for the judicious use of additional funds, design research strategies in close collaboration with industry and academic partners as well as strengthen partnerships and networks including the ACE Impact Inter-ACE network for agriculture- the Food for West Africa Network (Food4WA).

The final presentation on Education and ICT made by Dr. Dimitrios Noukakis acknowledged the role of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in increasing student enrolment especially during the pandemic, the various regional workshops and conferences centres have organized and participated. Notable among these were the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) Conference held in Vancouver, Canada, the Cybersecurity and Digitalization Workshop and the Sustainable Integration of Digital Education Conference, both held in Abuja, in March and May 2022 respectively. Centres were also commended for their efforts toward strengthening the inter-ACE network on digital education- African Digital Education Network (ADEN). Key challenges identified signaled the need to improve in the areas of student recruitment, internships, accreditation and research publications. Centres were therefore urged to strengthen the marketing of MSc & PhD programs as well as increase offer of short courses to address skills gaps related to the digitalization as a means to increase student recruitment. For internships, centres were entreated to establish a dedicated internal team to liaise with companies, secure internships, and follow up with students. Centres were further advised to accelerate the international accreditation process by setting up internal committees to manage the process. Considering the fact that online and blended learning are the future of advanced teaching and learning and gradually setting the benchmark for meeting world-class standards in terms of delivery of quality education, centres were encouraged to deploy Learning Management Systems for all Center’s programs as well as train faculties to use the systems effectively.

In contributing to discussions on the presentations, the participants expressed the need for well-performing centres to support the low-performing centres through peer-learning and sharing experiences. Again, it was emphasized that systems should be put in place to facilitate the processes for centres to have their programs internationally accredited. Lastly, the need for the inter-ACE Networks to be extended beyond the ACEs and their host universities was emphasized.